The announcement for Way of Compassion Women’s Bike Clinic with Road Runner Mobile Bike Repair on Facebook featured a cocky grin loaded with immaculate chompers gleaming beneath shades and a cherry red helmet. She could’ve been Suzy Chapstick 30 years ago but for the black grease engrained into her hand.
“I want that,” was my first response. “I mean, I want to be that,” I corrected myself. Could I be one of those girls that know how to wrench on her own ride?
My bike means everything to me.
There’s not a day goes by that I’m not connected to my ride. Booty settled, feet adjusted– within the first few wheel rotations, I’m in my happy place– on my bike, going anywhere.
I feel lucky to live in a small enough town that I can bike everywhere– school drop-off, groceries, post office, bank. I don’t mountain bike anymore, or road bike, but biking’s still my thing. I own a beater; it was a gift, the first bike I didn’t buy myself. It used to be a really nice bike. Today, the seat’s torn up, foam guts exposed, and I don’t care because I never have to lock it, anywhere, not even overnight. When I was pregnant, I replaced the handlebars with higher curved ones so I could sit up and pedal without banging the bun in my oven. It’s got skinny wheels, a light frame; built just for me. She’s ugly these days and I’m still absolutely smitten.
The last five or six years, I’ve turned to what is now the Way of Compassion Bike Project to take care of her. Director Aaron Taylor is the Zen master of bike repair, helping me out when I’ve needed affordable work, as most everything there is used and re-purposed. That means a lot to me, and should to you too if you ride. We’ve pretty much ripped open the belly of the Earth to extract metals and chemicals in the production of our bikes. Let’s re-use the stuff a few times…
When I saw Taz Brown’s grin beaming out from Facebook, something clicked. It was time. I signed on for my first ever bike mechanics class. I love to tinker and do…except on my own bike. A new fuel pump or replacing the shocks on my truck seems easy compared to cables, gears and drive chains. As much as I bike though? I needed to get over it and commit to learning. I also hope to inspire my 8-year old girl onto single-track (so I can do it again!) For safety’s sake, I need to learn some shit.
And golly was I nervous.
I was also kind of embarrassed to bring such a beater to a bike class sponsored in our mountain bike-oriented town. I pretty much expected a cohort of hardcore and younger women.
The Way of Compassion Bike Project shop is somewhat of a neighborhood secret. (Help us spread the word!) The entry is on the east side of the Third Street Center, around back. Aaron is most often there to greet you with a warm smile (he’s in his happy place, too). For class, Taz was there to greet us as well and slowly, the other women trickled in. I recognized several faces; we spanned the age range from the mid-20s to perhaps very early 60s. No one was scary, despite some pretty fancy bicycles– definitely worth more than my truck, even.
Taz was the perfect teacher in so many ways.
“I knew Taz from years ago when she trained me at Ajax Bike and Sport. She is a well-known mechanic in the bicycle world and she owns her own bicycle tuning business. I have come to find out that she also has an interest in teaching others,” Aaron shares, “and has been involved with women’s triathlon teams. [She emphasizes] knowing the basics of bicycle repair for any woman that would be competing in that sport. Taz also is very generous in her support of the good causes in her life, the bicycle project included!
We started our first class sharing why we had each signed on for four weeks of bike maintenance classes.
“What drew me most to this class was the fact that it was all women,” the youngest participant admitted. “I’m incredibly intimidated by the mountain biking community here.” To her credit, she had arrived with a pretty serious looking commuter bike and has done significant bike touring.
All of us have been riding for years, but unlike Taz, had never wrenched on our own bikes. A boyfriend, husband, buddy has always been there to take over, or we’ve taken our bikes to a shop. We wanted to be like Taz now, who’s been working on bikes since she was eight years old!
Taz has actually worked on bikes professionally for 27 years, both in Virginia and Colorado. In addition to Aaron and Taz’s shared experiences, Taz worked as a race mechanic for World Triathlon Corp for four years, traveling all over the US, mostly for full-distance Ironman events with a few half-distance events– about 75 races in all. Personally, her love of bikes has carried her across our nation on two coast-to-coast tours. That isn’t enough for her, though, so add to that a West coast solo tour, Ironman Cozumel, Kansas Half Ironman and the Whitelake Half. She herself is an avid mountain biker, dirt biker, and snowboarder.
Each class was two hours and flew. Taz knew her stuff and left us hanging on her words. The first lesson was a safe bet for nervous girls, and within most of our comfort zones: learning to change a flat. Ease aside, we learned new tricks or subtleties (based on our mistakes or questions others asked) in every class. We covered wheels, spokes, gears, drive chains, brakes and more. As a hands-on class, we brought our rides in each week, had our own bike stands, and access to whichever tools we needed. It was a fantastic four weeks of getting our hands dirty, learning how to use all those tools, and improving our relationship to our bikes.
The maintenance series was such a success, that the Way of Compassion Bike Project and Taz have paired up yet again.
“Taz is hosting open shop time on Mondays from 6 pm – 8 pm. All ladies are welcome to bring their bike in to repair or build a bicycle out of our donated inventory. The focus is a ladies only space and time for expanding mechanical skills to maintain their bicycles,” Aaron explains. “We are working on a mechanic series to be hosted one night at a time. The first workshop will focus on wheels: proper tension, round, dishing, lateral truing, and concepts of wheel building. Costs of open shop time: recommended donation of $10 per hour, and cost of the more official workshop: $20. We will be announcing the workshops as we enter the first months of 2019.”
So stay tuned. Or get tuned. Or learn to, anyway~